Volunteer Screening: The Interview

Posted Thursday, August 20th, 2015 by Verified Volunteers Staff

You are convinced that a criminal background check is an essential component of the volunteer screening process.  And it’s pretty cut and dried – you have the volunteer order their background check, you are alerted when the background check is complete, you review it and – based on the results returned – you determine whether a volunteer is eligible to work with your organization or not. But what about the volunteer candidate interview? Are you conducting one for each and every volunteer?

Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What’s even the point of interviewing volunteers? It feels like a much too formal process.”  The volunteer interview is quite important – and can be very effective if you ask the right questions. Let’s talk about why you should interview volunteers, what you should leave each interview having achieved, and the key questions to ask.

Why Interview Volunteers?

We interview volunteers for a number of reasons. We want to make sure the volunteer is going to be a good fit with the organization so, we use the interview as a way to gather information from the volunteer. But on top of getting information, we want to give the volunteer sufficient information to make a decision about volunteering for the organization – the decision to volunteer should be a 2-way street. After this exchange of information, we’ll have a better idea of whether there is a match between what is needed/offered by the organization/volunteer.

By the way, a formal interview shows that we take the volunteer’s involvement seriously. That’s extremely important when it comes to recruiting and retaining quality volunteers.

What’s the Goal of Interviewing Volunteers?

At the end of the interview, you should know if you want to engage the volunteer or not. 

You’ll know what the volunteer expects from working with your organization, and exactly why they want to get involved.

You should also ask the right questions so you understand what tasks are appropriate for the volunteer (What are the volunteer’s interests, skills, knowledge and experience?) and if there are any limitations that might influence what tasks the volunteer can undertake (include availability).

Now, on to the questions. What should you be asking?

General Volunteer Screening Questions

Here’s a list of some great open-ended questions to ask your prospective volunteers:

  • What interested you about this volunteer position?
  • Is there an aspect of our mission that motivates you to want to volunteer?
  • Tell me the story of how your chose your education program OR career path OR life work?
  • Have you volunteered in the past?
         Yes: What have you enjoyed most about previous volunteer work?
         No: What have you enjoyed most about previous paid work or other activities?

  • Are you involved in other organized activities?
  • What special skills would you like to utilize as a volunteer?
  • Are there tasks that you do not want to do as a volunteer?
  • Can you briefly talk about your experiences as they relate to this position?
  • What would you say are three of your strengths?
  • Do you prefer working independently or with a group?
  • What would be the ideal volunteer job for you – and why?
  • Describe your ideal supervisor.
  • What are your expectations of our organization? Of our employees?
  • What are your personal goals for this experience?
  • Do you have any concerns about what we expect of you?
  • Are you willing to make a time commitment of ____________________?
  • Are you interested in some training pertinent to this position?
  • Are you willing to provide training in your area of expertise to other volunteers or staff members?
  • Do you have any questions that you would like to ask us?

Screening Volunteers for Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, reason with, understand and manage emotions. It’s often thought of as a key indicator of success in a job or volunteer position. So it’s key to ask questions to help measure emotional intelligence during the volunteer interview.  These might include:

  • How will this role help you to achieve what you want?
  • What makes you laugh?
  • When is the last time you were embarrassed? (What happened? How did you handle the situation?)
  • What activities energize and excite you?
  • How do you have fun?
  • What are two personal habits that have served you well?
  • How good are you at accepting help from others?
  • How good are you at asking for help?
  • What is one of the internal battles to have each day?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What aspect of your work are you passionate about?
  • How could you create more balance in your life?
  • Who inspires you? Why?
  • On an “average day” would you consider yourself a high or low energy person?
  • On an “average day” is your main focus on results and tasks or people and emotions? 

Read Between the Lines

As you can see, we recommend asking not just  standard yes/no or close-ended questions, but leaving some room for candidates to speak freely and openly – it’s imperative to let them guide the conversation and listen closely enough to follow up appropriately with enough questions to make sure that you understand not only if a candidate meets the requirements of your open position, but also the intangibles no job description can capture, like cultural fit. Remember, it’s not just what they say, but how they say it – and what they don’t say too.

On top of your interview, consider doing personal reference checks. Talking to individuals that know the candidate on a more intimate level can go a long way towards helping you understand whether a potential volunteer would mesh with your organization.

Are you conducting volunteer interviews? Are you asking both typical interview questions as well as questions to help you measure emotional intelligence? Do you have any effective questions you’d like to share with your peers? Connect with us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn!